About 3:45 p.m., at low tide, I bike to the beach. It’s not far, a three-minute walk, but I prefer to bike; it makes it easier to avoid talking to my neighbors. I pause here to say that, in general, my neighbors are lovely people—especially Kenny and Jan who live on the corner. Just the other day, Kenny dropped off a bag of fruit plucked from his mother’s orange tree near Jacksonville. He tells me that the oranges are full of seeds, which they are—and they are delicious! My neighbor avoidance is strictly a quirk of my introverted nature—and some days it’s stronger than on others.
So here I am on my bike, barefooted, clad in a ripped short-sleeve, white T-shirt (formerly my father’s), black old-lady fanny pack snapped around my waist with my camera and keys inside, metal trash grabber and blue plastic bucket in my left hand—and I am off (a tad unsteady and wobbly at first, yet another reminder of aging).
It is one of those glorious days that make you glad to be alive: bright blue sky, low humidity, and temps in the mid-70s with a 10-mph wind gusting out of the south. My spirit soars up into the wild blue yonder. However, as I wait to cross the two lanes of busy A1A south, streaming with cars during early rush, I realize that I’ve chosen the wrong hat—the damn brim keeps blowing up in the stiff breeze—and I know it’ll drive me crazy on the beach, the strong, solar rays beating down on my face, totally defeating the purpose of wearing a hat in the first place. I could have, probably should have, turned around and returned home to change hats, but instead I opt for expedience (and laziness).
Finally, an opening in traffic! I lunge across the road, and pedal up Myrtle, the short one-way street, connecting A1A south with A1A north. I hear a vehicle behind me and glance over my shoulder to see a white jeep coming up fast—too fast for this skinny one-lane road and I swerve over onto the grass, wobbly in my haste. I lose my balance, and simultaneously loosen my firm grip on my metal trash grabber. No longer snug against my body, as the Jeep pulls up next to me, it flies out and dings his vehicle. Uh-oh! It’s not a major strike but I hear it, the driver hears it, and he shrieks at me, “You f***er! You hit my car!”
Wow! His words and aggressive energy fire up my nervous system with a surge of adrenaline. I grip my handlebars with clenched fists as I wait to dart across the north two lanes of A1A. I ride into the parking lot of Murkshe Park and so does he. I’m scared and my reaction is: FLEE! As fast as my older lady legs can carry me, I swerve out of the parking lot, make a sharp right and race for the next beach entrance a block away, praying he won’t follow me.
But hold on, I think to myself. This doesn’t feel right. So I turn around and ride back into the lot, up to the guy, careful to not get too close, to give him plenty of personal space. He’s young, in his mid-20s at the oldest, with carrot-orange hair, looking down at his phone.
I say, “I’m really sorry I dinged your car. I was losing my balance getting out of your way. It was an accident.”
He glances up from his phone, walks over to the ding mark, wipes it off with his thumb and says, “No problem, it came right off.” He then says, “It’s all good.”
I’d like to report that he then actually looked at me, established eye contact and said something like this, “I’m sorry lady, who could be my granny that I hurled such vileness at you. I’m sure that you did not hit my car on purpose.”
However, he did not say that or anything else so I hopped back on my bike to ride three blocks south, lock my bike to the fence and start my walk.
Migrating shorebirds caw and poop, the wind blows up my hat brim just like I expected, and I start to think really ugly thoughts about the kid with the orange hair.
Whoa! What am I doing? It’s so easy, so reflexive to summon up righteous indignation, play judge and jury. But to what end? The calmer observer part of me can definitely understand his position and being upset; his reaction was just out of proportion for what happened. Golly, can I relate to that.
And then I start to get curious: Why was he so reactive? I wonder what his story is. What’s going on in his life? Why was he so willing to assign ill intent to me? Why do I do the same?
The other piece I ought to share here is that I am recently back from a long weekend at Gladdening Light, https://gladdeninglight.org/symposium-2020/, an annual symposium that brings together spirituality and the arts. This year’s theme was: Wild Surrender, Inter-Spirituality in a Time of Trial. Theologians and story tellers, Mirabai Starr, Rabbi Rami Shapiro and Barbara Brown Taylor, led sessions framed by glorious music from Eugene Friesen, and Owen and Moley Ó Súilleabháin. While there is much to sit with and still process from the symposium, some themes emerged from the time I gathered with several hundred other spiritual seekers: exploring the way of the mystics (meaning direct experience of the divine without intermediaries); surrendering the ego-driven small self; and the value, nay the necessity, the imperative of reclaiming the divine feminine to help negotiate what’s coming as so many of our systems (environmental, political, cultural, educational, healthcare, criminal justice, etc.) are in crisis, if not collapse. Just how do we, well-intentioned people, who want to do right and good deal with what is here now? And how do we deal with what is coming? How do we not just survive but thrive in a culture steeped in fear?
After I gulp down rising panic over what can feel apocalyptic, I sit with these questions. Of course, there are no easy answers, but some invitations emerge:
To be loving
To provide refuge for those who need it
To discern what is yours to do
That last part: to discern what is mine to do keeps coming up. Hell, if I know. But I bet on some level that I do know. Maybe it’s not a grand, sweeping thunderbolt kind of answer, but more a subtle awareness that every dang day there will be opportunities like what just happened on my way to the beach to practice all the above and not just swerve into reactive habits that may feel good in the moment but ultimately feel empty. How can I be in the world in a way that helps, not hinders. Can I be to be kind and loving, not angry and resentful, even when (especially when) triggered? Maybe that’s my surrender, not exactly wild, perhaps, but powerful, nonetheless.
Live long and prosper, my orange-haired friend.
Reader’s Invitation: I’d love to hear about your own day-to-day incidents where things went awry. How did you respond? How would you have liked to respond? Got any ideas on how to keep the fabric of society woven together in these fractious times?